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A Glade of One's Own

"What is a glade of one's own? Is it an investment? A place that can generate revenue? In her novel, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf advocates that the possibility of privacy in combination with a fixed income as the most important thing for (women’s) creativity.", notes Nikolina Ställborn in our interview about her ongoing exhibition at AllArtNow Lab in Stockholm. "In the exhibition I also wanted to confront my own dream about the forest and spontaneous searches on Hemnet accompanied by the examination of various prospects and transformations", she says.

Nikolina Ställborn. Photo: Mikael Wiström

C-P: I’d like to begin by saying that I really enjoyed and appreciated your exhibition at hand – A Glade Of One’s Own at AllArtNow (curated by Jonatan Habib Engqvist). The title itself which is a paraphrase on Viriginia Woolf lets on, or at least alludes to, a most personal narrative informed by the exhibition; one of your own formative years growing up in Northern Sweden with parents who left the urban city. On a less than general thematic note, and on a more personal one; what can be said about the context of time here? N.S: I have explored the dream of the forest. It all started in a project that was about earlier generations’ migration between the rural and the urban, where I tried to investigate my parents’ participation in the so-called “green wave” movement with roots in flower power the 68-movement. Quite soon, these became fairly harsh ecological movements with a lot of rules, which assisted the creation of something that operated outside the community rather than becoming a force of societal change. They were a generation that left the city for the countryside, reminiscent of previous waves like that of National Romanticism and Carl and Karin Larsson, and it was also a way for them to challenge to their parents’ choice to leave agriculture behind in order to work in the capital.

I was curious about this desire – wanting their own farm and to live as far away as possible from environmental toxins (such as industry and exhaust gas). They wanted it so much that they were prepared to abandon the proximity to friends and relatives in order to build up their own agriculture in a small glade surrounded by miles and miles of forest.

Nikolina Ställborn, Green dominates (2020), A Glade of One's Own, AllArtNow, Stockholm

I gathered various colour schemes from the forest and tried to paint in a state, or with the energy of, a wave, and as seen in the exhibition it is mostly about shades of green. At first I noticed how the colours wanted to return to the landscape where I picked them up (Green is leading (the way), 2020). I noted how I struggled with conventions as if colour norms and forms somehow kept overpowering the pallet. The “Green Wave” movement was very much about breaking contemporary norms, and I realized that I too had to break up the landscape in order to be able to paint the green wave. After a while, I started to grasp the romanticism present in the movement, and how this also contributed to stereotypical gender norms regarding the distribution of chores, clothes, (and who was left with the children when free sexuality mainly remained free for one of the sexes). How could I capture these norms while painting the green wave?

It was the movement’s internal ties that linked together all of these small farms and communes. Their bonds remained strong through shared distancing from mainstream society. This made it a form of guerrilla movement (mostly without arms) complete with internal leader figures that did not always follow democratic principles. As I contemplated these aspects, the dissolved landscapes turned into compositions with elements of camouflage. My endeavour to paint the green wave landed in a dancing camouflage, where some parts are free and others are enforced. It is a forest painting where colour fields dance and where one green hue borders another, making it obvious that the forest also is a form of cultivated land (Green dominates, 2020). The dream of one's own glade as a free space exists in the commercial sphere. The dream of an existence that is free and carries its own order beyond human intervention remains a dream. Every mile of forest is planned, planted and has a profit calculation hanging over it. In the exhibition A Glade Of One’s Own, I also wanted to confront my own dream about the forest and spontaneous searches on Hemnet accompanied by the examination of various prospects and transformations.

What is a glade of one´s own? Is it an investment? A place that can generate revenue? In her novel, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf advocates that the possibility of privacy in combination with a fixed income as the most important thing for (women’s) creativity.

Nikolina Ställborn, #run (2020), A Glade of One's Own, AllArtNow, Stockholm

C-P: In the midst, there are “collaged” embroidered works which juxtapose textiles with imagery. There is almost a moment of intrinsic visual shock seeing the camouflage-like pattern/disposition, commonly attributed to the military. And then you sort of have to catch yourself, questioning why. After all, the pattern is most commonly expressed through parkas and trousers so there’s no real material “perversion” here to react to. Partially identified how considerably rare the pattern appears to me in art deriving from these shores to begin with (which may or may not be surprising) and then came to think of how this visual identity of the army is one of those stock “images” known to just about everybody, but charged so differently; culturally, sexually, gendered(ly) and so on. So, it becomes a catalyst confronting you with your own biased gaze. What were your own considerations?

N.S: In this respect I chose to depart from the camouflage pattern because this is where my investigation into the green wave landed: In guerrilla-like groups of alternative societies hidden in forest areas on the edge remote depopulated villages.

The camouflage fabrics are cut from uniforms. Camouflage became both the backdrop and the landscape in which I then inserted authentic photographs of my parents and other glimpses of life in their glade with the help of embroidery. With the stitches I could tell the story in a more accessible manner. The stitches show details, predominantly spruce, but also provide a certain materiality that captures ideals we were brought up with, where craftsmanship was a fundamental value along with organic farming, animal husbandry and forestry. By letting the fabrics remain stretched in the embroidery frames they also become a collection of family portraits in round frames. Today, family portraits do not look like this, they mostly slide past in the flows of social media as temporary glimpses. In order not to get lost in nostalgic traps I also needed the humour of hash-tag-existence.

Nikolina Ställborn, #sunbath (2020), A Glade of One's Own, AllArtNow, Stockholm

C-P: The related notion of borders makes itself known in the exhibition. A greater societal divider than ever in politics. At the same time, digital connectivity bridging the world from being provincial also brings forth a level of harmonization in collectively perceiving the often harrowing realities that geopolitical borders impose; here, there or wherever. Yet, locally, and on another level this scheme of my-space-your space, closed door, selective open door for selected few is also so very inherent in Swedish everyday socializing culture. Whatever the contradictory duality, it strikes me as this collaboration with AllArtNow and its venue being a great fit for the exhibition. Cultural differences appears to come to a head.

N.S: Yes absolutely. Your comment contains so many complex issues that I can’t really place myself outside so much as to see the extent of it and apply it to the exhibition. The simple fact that someone can claim a piece of land because of their position of power, their inheritance or money is part of human history as a bound to a specific place (i.e. the history of agricultural society). All other ways of living have been pushed aside for a long time (thousands of years) and in Sweden it was Gustav Vasa who reformed the right to roam and to hunt. After Gustav Vasa the Sami became even more oppressed and their traditional migration routes were limited. This coincides with the rise of colonialism throughout the world. The reforms entailed that all forest land or so-called “uninhabited” land belonged to the Crown. When I grew up these vast forests were managed by Domänverket (The National Forest Service). During the 20th century they were one of the largest employers in northern Sweden along with the mining industry. Even today, Statens fastighetsverk (the State Property Agency) is chopping down delicate biotopes in order to free up capital whenever the time comes to renovate a castle. The strength of ownership is bizarre. And how little responsibility for surrounding land it entails. Sharp boundary lines between properties are abstract lines, narrow ruler-drawn stripes that cannot follow hills, peaks and valleys but still determine who has the right to be there, or gets a share of the profit.

Nikolina Ställborn, Green Is Leading (The way), 2020, A Glade of One's Own, AllArtNow, Stockholm

During the current pandemic, borders have been closed between countries that previously were open. It is the first time in my life that Swedes are unwanted in All Other Countries. I think it is a valuable experience for us and hope it will contribute to more humility and openness towards people who seek refuge here from other places. Stockholm is an extremely segregated city, and the art world is anxious rather than curious. There seems to be something in Swedish culture that has to do with restraints, a way of thinking that the good (that we should live from) is limited and therefore not enough. It contributes to stealth where some are admitted while others are excluded. It might be something inherited through generations: a hundred and twenty years ago almost everyone here was a crofter or peasant, a maid or a farm-worker, and large parts of the country have a lean moraine soil that greatly limits the harvest. Perhaps starvation from generation to generation has created a culture of stinginess? It might also have something to do with shame; the worst thing for a farmer is not being able to give guests real food, and when there is a culture where thinking is based on shortage, exclusion may be a way to avoid having to be ashamed (over inadequacy). The main contribution to Sweden’s strong economy in the last century was precisely that the two World Wars played out elsewhere, and during the record years of the 1950s and 1960s, Sweden as a nation was able to dominate with exports from an intact industry and economy. Many Swedes still have an image of Sweden as wealthy and at the forefront with regards to healthcare, equality, social security, care for the elderly, etc. This is of course nostalgia, and perhaps the spread of the Corona-death is the spotlight needed to highlight the differences between the nation’s self-image and its reality. I tried to approach the problem with the work #agladeofonesown (2020) where I let straight embroidered lines divide the camouflage patterned fabric into cadastral borders.

C-P: How does this work sit with your past body of work or expand on your artistic trajectory to date? I’m thinking also considering the video presented in the exhibition, which clearly stems back a few years in time.

N.S: En tecknares plantering (2002) is an annexation of a grassy edge by a motorway, the arbitrary conduct of a site. I used the space between. I departed from a shitty place; one of those middle grounds where rubbish collects and no one wants to stop. I wondered how these places could be enriched instead of being something people hurry past in fear of assault. The film shows a kind of opportunity to create another game in the middle of all of that noise and dirt. It is a power that I can obtain by drawing. And humming.

Portrait of Nikolina Ställborn, relating to Time Loop (2018), photo: Mikael Wiström

For me places have always been important. In some projects the relationship to place is conceptually constrained and in others it is more complex. For instance in Time Loop (2018), which was the starting point for the green wave paintings, I investigated my parents’ migration by departing from rural family portraiture through different times. Families would stand arranged together with their horse in front of a house. I created a contemporary image that also contained these historical references. Using Skansen, which is at once a real and a fictive site and moreover a segment of national romanticism, it became a history loop where the dream of a better life, a place of one’s own, was collected into a single image of a fictive family with a diverse international background. And a horse.

When thinking about a glade of one’s own it felt relevant to bring in En tecknares plantering, since it also processes questions of what it means to own, create, dream and possibly also to cultivate. Time Loop, which is a VR-piece, is not in this show because of the pandemic.

C-P: Given the recent and ongoing pandemic times, I cannot not ask you, what epiphanies this had led you to as an artist?

N.S: In these strange times where a pandemic is taking lives and closing borders, it is being with other people, and perhaps mainly with colleagues, that has become one of things that carry most meaning for me. It is a luxury taken in small doses and with more than arms-length distance. What this will entail and what I will do is impossible to predict. A large research project has been postponed as it involved crossing an ocean, and the question is if it will be possible to do it next year or not due to conditions that might change on a fundamental level. The pandemic has a direct effect on planned projects and therefore also on income. I think that many artists will have to give up their studios. I hope I will be able to keep mine so that I have that necessary space to make and to think.

At the same time, the pandemic has offered a possibility to see life and the society we live in though new eyes. Habits disappear. The world is boiling, white power and double standards might break down in the USA, Covid-19 medicines are being developed from herbs in Madagascar, Ghana is managing to keep numbers down to thirty cases while Sweden is loosing thousands, we have seen how rapidly nature can recover. This is a possibility to change our self-image, behaviour and patterns of thought.

Nikolina Ställborn, installation view, A Glade of One's Own, AllArtNow, Stockholm

C-P: Lastly, what’s next in store for you with your work?

N.S: All projects that involve a lot of people or travel are postponed. I have a public commission that’s waiting for us to be able to have start-up meetings in a safe way. I have also been studying medicinal plants, their history and expansion, for a while as part of a forthcoming project. A couple of specialist libraries are closed for visitors so it’s moving a bit slowly. Since I’m in the early stages I still want to keep the details to myself.

On view through June 27, Saturdays from 14-17pm and by appointment

AllArtNow Lab, Älvkarleövägen 6, (Ropsten t-bana - access Hjorthagen)


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